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Hoteliers angered by attractions ban for tourists

Published:Saturday | August 15, 2020 | 12:23 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.
Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.


Jamaica’s key tourism stakeholder organisations are taking the Government to task for barring tourists from leaving hotel properties.

In a joint letter, dated August 14, chairman of the COVID-19 Resilient Corridor, John G. Byles; president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, Omar Robinson; and president of the Association of Jamaican Attractions, Marilyn Burrowes, expressed discontent with the Government’s decision.

They argued that a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) order, issued July 31, stated that beginning August 7, tourists would be able to leave certified hotels, using similarly approved tourist transportation to visit specified attractions within the Resilient Corridor, connected by point-to-point protocols.

This, they said, was aimed at ensuring that visitors would not exit the Corridor and interact with the general population prior to them completing the required 14-day quarantine. However, the Holness administration had, without warning, reversed the decision.

“Given the success thus far, since June 15 of our operations on the Resilient Corridors, we are surprised and disappointed that in an update to the DRM on August 5, the Government reversed the order, once again restricting tourists to just their hotel grounds,” the trio said.

“With all the public/private partnership on this project to date, along with success so far on the beginnings of bringing our tourism workers back to work, we cannot understand why this decision has been taken,” they added.

On Friday, Byles, Robinson, and Burrowes said it was inconceivable that after extensive tourism stakeholder consultation, with the Ministry of Health & Wellness, the security forces, local municipalities, and a considerable amount of capital and time used to implement robust COVID-19 prevention protocols”, and strong regulatory inspection, the Government has backtracked.

Contending that the spike in COVID-019 cases did not occur within the Tourism Resilient Corridors, they argued that health ministry data show that it was Jamaicans and their visiting friends and relatives who had contributed to the spike. They also contended that those who do not adhere to the quarantine guidelines must be ‘address and penalised’, no matter who they are.

In contrast, licensed hotels, attractions, and tourist transport operators, they said, undertook a collective approach to ensure the corridors were trusted and protected zones where foreign or local visitors are now experiencing one of “the safest vacation spots anywhere in the world”, since the sector reopened on June 15.

J’cans, ‘flouting the rules’

“It is us Jamaicans, resident and diaspora, who are flouting the rules and putting our fellow Jamaicans at risk. We firmly agree with the Government taking strong action against those who gather unlawfully in the hundreds at rivers, beaches and at unauthorised entertainment events,” they said.

“It seems to us that due to misbehaviour of our nationals ignoring quarantine and gathering rules, a broad brush has been unfairly used by the Government shutting down the ability for tourists to visit licensed and COVID-19-approved attraction operations, again sending thousands of workers off the job, including tour and taxi operators,” they added in the letter.

According to the three organisations, the “sophisticated and professionally managed corridors” ought not to be off-limits, as the concept is a revolutionary idea that is working effectively.

As a consequence, they said the Holness administration must trust the Corridors to work as designed so that staff can return to work safely and to give the industry an opportunity to earn the desperately needed foreign exchange for the country.